My love for this movie “resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary”, to quote Emily Brontë’s most famous work Wuthering Heights. Emily, directed by Andrew Dominik, spins us a creative interpretation of the titular author’s short life and the deeply personal motivations behind her most famous work.
Emily, portrayed by Emma Mackey (Maeve in Sex Education) is the ‘wildchild’ antihero of the Brontë family, constructed in contrast to the well-heeled (and historically more popular) teacher in training Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling) and her off-the-rails brother Branwell (Fionn Whitehead), who is a bit of a small-town Byron in his own right. Dominik weaves a dreamy yet gritty retelling of her life, birthing a myth that will have you wanting to dance between mossy granite stones and meet your clandestine lover in an abandoned cottage on the moors.
Cursed to be the odd duck of her family – refusing to grow up and move on from ‘childish’ storytelling about dragons and lost lovers (much to the chagrin of her father the preacher – Adrian Dunbar), she falls for the age old ‘enemies to lovers’ cliché.
Originally entranced by the ideals of her brother, she loses faith in “freedom of thought” after her naïve, opium fuelled romp across the idyllic British countryside leaves her drained and shaken. Her saviour is the new golden tongued curate William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Their French lessons turn to a whole different kind of learning as they explore their creative motivations, and each other.
I feel at times many members of the cast can stray in to overacting – the heady mix of potent figurative dialogue and deeply emotional scenes occasionally leading to the feeling that this could be read as ‘just another historical romance’. However, this film has far more enriching factors.
The languid landscapes look like they’re out of a classic painting and create the perfect environment for the spilling over of emotion as characters cast their souls to the whipping winds of the moors. Pastoral scenes are juxtaposed with almost unhinged gothic elements that play on the religious ties within society and the past traumas of the Brontë family. This whirling tumult is enhanced by a sensory soundscape that echoes each emotion and transports us with it.
Despite everything, Mackey shines through with a portrayal of Emily that differs from ones we have seen before. Gone is the sickly, shy, short-lived girl and instead we have a woman who lives life on her own terms and is gone from the world far too soon. Charlotte might be the more well-known sister, but in this movie, Emily is the true heroine of their story.
Frances O’Connor will present her acclaimed directorial debut film live on stage in a series of special Q&A screenings this December – tickets on sale now, check your local cinema or go to this website to find out more. The film will release across Australia January 12.